E and I drove up the ranch in the last week of July. We arrived a few days before Kaye and Walt flew out to Great Falls to join us. The cool nights and blustery days were a universe apart from the non-stop desert blast furnace of Utah in our bright shiny future of global catastrophe. I got right back to work on my water drainage project begun on our last trip out in June. That is, after chasing the cows out of the yard so I could run the push mower around for a day.
Kaye and Walt flew back to Kansas City (once the Great Falls airport had held them nearly overnight) and E & I got on to a day-long Feller project of replacing 80 feet of wooden rail fence around the front of the house. Fence that is essential to keeping livestock out of the yard during cattle drives as well as bovine fence crawlers ambling up and down the road all season long.
As the title suggests our Iris splitting project in SLC became a multi-state issue that required a massive addition of garden space in both locations. This slope below the corral drops straight into the creek at the footbridge we rebuilt in June. It is usually a wall of weeds and grasses and towering wild carrot.
From inside the collapsing corral, prior to scything out the morass of weeds on the other side. Taking out the weeds turned out to be quite a bit bigger of a deal than I had planned…
We took the tandem up the canyon of the Little Belt River to the remote mining/ski town of Neihart. Earlier in the week the sun and wind had turned us around 1.5 steep miles short of Neihart, but we caught a nice cloudburst on the way down going fast enough that our backs didn’t get wet. This time we had a boosting tail-wind and made Neihart, the day had been hazy with smoke from Washington, and as we made it back to the ranch a closer fire somewhere near Missoula sent a harbinger of things to come.
Our forests have dried out with only skeletal remains on many southern facing slopes. Pine beetles have devastated many areas in the Little Belt range, and are beginning to eke their way into our forests.
If the biggest and toughest dragon-toes of Iris can dig in, we may have a few blooms even next year; most likely it will be a year of recovery before blooming. Iris like well drained soil in full sun, but this spot is pretty tough.
We headed up to Montana for a stint of workationing at the ranch. On one of our first evenings up we drove over the ridge to check the 20 Bluebird houses along the county road, and old Kibbey Ridge road. A storm gathered and boomed, socking in the mountains.
Last summer I made 6 B-bird houses and we set them up along the high hayfield. This past June one was knocked off by itchy cows, this time up we found another knocked off and most of them had been well rubbed. This old gal in the corral is at optimal survival height, and is older than I am.
This is the last house of the anniversary trek. It was perfect, protected by a steep sidehill from the cows. We decided to move the entire group (save this one) up to the high inside run of fence of the hayfield- most too steep for the truck and so much too steep for cows.
The new placement for the birdhouses is along the ridgeline, along the skyline of the steep alpine meadow that borders the hayfield & bails.
Walking back down to the house, we stopped off at the old rhubarb/raspberry patch. I brought a giant seed head of rhubarb back to the yard and placed it on the woodpile. A buzzing began at my feet, and as my brain reeled into snake mode and I two-stepped back- the rattlesnake at my feet had coiled up and ready to strike. It was happy with my quick retreat, but continued to coil and buzz its tail under a shelf of cedar post. So the rest of the day was spent mitigating snake habitat or snake-surprise areas.
Dave stops in with heavy welding gloves and a flat snake-shovel and helps me move the woodpile into the woodshed. No snake.
The human brain is hard-wired to interpret any line or curve on the ground as a snake. Usually this lays dormant and unnoticed, but once primal survival instincts are primed they take precedence. So lots of downed Willow branches got double-takes, and our little group of yard-friendly Garter snakes elicited electrical flight response as they tumbled out from under bridges and swam across the stream or sunned on the foundation of the house.
This fixer-upper joined the 6 new redwood houses up on the high hayfield, placed when we moved them all to the upper fence line- making 8 houses on the trek, starting with the mid-century unit at the corral.
Back in Utah it was over 100 degrees all week. We left town as Antelope Island, out on the Great Salt Lake, burned with wildfire and filled the valley with smoke. Our return trip will take us alongside another fire 90 miles north of Salt Lake City, the smoke spilling south and mixing with the massive fires out in CA. more to come…
E and I head back up to the Montana ranch for 10 days of working vacation, and to celebrate our 6th Anniversary and E’s birthday. I’m splitting the trip into sections over the course of the next few days. This first bit covers days 1-3 at the ranch, not counting the day of driving and opening up the place. It is a 550 mile drive when we shift from interstate to blue highways in Montana at Dillon and come over the Little Belt Mountains via King’s Hill Pass. A drive that just gets prettier from the Montana border on up.
Our first day and the cats (mostly Xandar) had mouse kill #1 laid out on the carpet by the foot of the bed. We had a repairman scheduled out for the morning to take a look at the old range, which has fritzed on us during our June visit. Our repairman was a great gent who has fixed every kind of everything in these old ranches. As usually occurs for him, the old Hotpoint ranges just decide to work fine as soon as he arrives. He took apart the key aspects to inspect them and everything was fine. He fixed a burner that had never in my memory worked, and we put in new 40 watt bulbs that the ranch had squirreled away (he doesn’t carry bulbs any more as the bouncy dirt roads vibrate the elements apart). He looked at our breaker box, and discerned that our ancient “breakerless” style breakerbox was the culprit- the range can draw 220 volts if running most burners and an oven, which pops the breaker, but also heats it up and it needs to cool down before resetting. With this in mind he headed down to the earthen basement to look at the water heater with me. I had put it in a year ago, an element had burned out, I had fixed it and it always popped the breaker- so we had thought it was broken and had gone without. The unit was fine, and my fix was solid- it was the same issue as the range. The water heater has two elements and when the tank is heating initially, both elements run pulling at 220. This will pop the breaker, and need some shepherding of the breaker ’til the tank reaches temperature and automatically shifts to one element. He knows an elderly Vietnam Veteran who lost an eye in the war who would love to tinker with our old wiring and set up a new system, but thinks the job might tire him out a bit much- it is the type of thing that doesn’t really need fixing ’til it really breaks and should work fine for us for our short visits for a long time. He said to never pull all the old wiring, as it is wonderful solid copper cable with a tar/cloth sheath, and is much better than modern strand.
The afternoon of day one was spent mowing the lawn, planting Iris we brought from our SLC yard in a new bed lined with brick along the old log Ice House, fixing the power relay box to the house out in the field where the cattle had rubbed it loose (as well as the welding socket box my father had installed and was dangling loose and filled with a Wren’s nest and Earwigs). I installed a new bathroom light with a pull-cord, as there is no switch and I had previously put in a switched fixture whose bulbs we screwed in and out as needed. We also rehung some pictures my sister had drawn as xmas presents in 1978, and some new ones- an oil portrait of my father as a boy “Lyle the cowboy dressed as Lyle the gunslinger” that I made at his bedside in hospice.
Day 2 began with removing mouse kill #2, displayed for our pleasure in the same manner by Xandar. I then moved a calf that had snuck all down through the corrals back toward the herd, and 5 feet from the open gate he launched himself into the fence and tore out a section just to be honery. After fixing the hole he made, it was on to clearing the stone paths of overgrowth, then clearing out all the wild carrot growing near the stream by the house that runs through the yard, taking the weed whacker apart to find where the jam was in the twine- twice (super hard use makes it testy), we took a stroll up to The Lookin’ Rock, brushed the burrs out of Stanley. Then I put my extender bed on the back of the truck and we headed out for the 80 mile round trip drive to town for all the trips groceries, and hardware at Home Depot, and ranchware of 16′ split rail and tongue & groove board and etc at North 40 (previously Big R). We were home around 8pm.
Day Three is our 6th Anniversary, and I have made seven Bluebird houses for our celebratory day- we will set them in the evening, after an afternoon of fixing the old Bluebird houses along the county road that bisects the ranch. In the future we can walk up to the hayfield and check in on the nesting Bluebirds as a nice association. We spent the morning putting in a new flower bed between the house and the footpath along the South wall, filled with more Iris from our SLC garden. At noon we started our triage of old bluebird houses and finished at 7pm, had a dinner break, and head out again at 9pm to set our anniversary houses.